There were 4 deeply revered monasteries instituted by the venerated sage Shankaracharya in the 7th century, one in every cardinal point of the country - Joshimath in the north, Sringeri in the south, Dwarka in the west, and Puri in the east. Among these, Puri is arguably the one which has the most to offer by way of pilgrimage, architecture, culture as well as stunning physical beauty.
Situated along the coast, and naturally beautiful, Puri has a recorded history that dates back right up to the third century BC. Grand edifices, monuments, ancient places of worship, and antique remnants from eras past make Puri worth visiting for more than mere devotional offering. Even avid bird watchers throng to the breathtaking Chilkha lake for a sighting of migratory birds. You’d be mesmerized by an Odissi dance performance, a traditional temple dance born of the Devadasi tradition. There are patta paintings and appliqué mementos to be shopped for, and millions of pictures to be taken.
But above all, this is a temple town like no other, and Puri is hardly ever mentioned without its Divine suffix – Jagannath. That is what Puri is primarily, the abode of the Lord Jagannath in the form of its awe-inspiring Jagannath Temple.
Puri, situated along the shore of the Bay of Bengal some 60 km from Bhubaneswar, is the southernmost district in the State of Orissa in Eastern India. Geographically, it has Bhubaneswar the capital of Orissa on the north; the district of Khurda to its west; Sambalpur in the south; and the paddy field plains and the shore of the Bay of Bengal to its east.
Asia’s largest freshwater lake and inland lagoon, Lake Chilkha, a bird-watching haven occurs almost in totality within the spread of Puri. Bamboo-sal forests stretch over its western region.
Puri is also known for its five holy lakes and they are Markanda, Shweta Ganga, Narendra, Indradyumna and Parvati Sagar.
How to get there
The State Highway is the most popularly used route to reach Bhubaneswar though it is also possible to access Puri through Konarak along Marine Drive, a journey of about 100km.
Buses run by the Government State Transport Corporation and the Orissa Road Corporation connect Puri to Bhubaneswar, Konarak, Chilkha, Sambalpur, Calcutta, Madras and Visakhapatnam. Like the ‘haath gaadi’ or hand carts of Calcutta, cycle rickshaws in Puri are the most popular way of traveling within the city. There are bicycles for hire locally which gives you an opportunity to cycle along the shore and around the Jagannath Temple area - an experience you definitely want to take home!
Puri is fairly well connected by South Eastern Railway, fast and superfast train links with Mumbai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Okha, Tirupati, Delhi, Guwahati, Hyderabad ,Thiruvanandapuram, Calcutta and Baidyanath Dham etc.
The nearest airport is the domestic airport at Bhubaneswar 65 km away from Puri city. Indian Airlines flies regularly to Bhubaneswar accessing Delhi, Calcutta, Nagpur, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Vishakhapatnam,
Puri is referred to as simply Jagannath by the Hindus up North of India. Locally the city is called Purushottam kshetra meaning the dwelling of the ‘best of beings’ in reference to Lord Jagannath of Puri. For centuries pilgrims from all over India have come seeking the benevolence of ‘the lord of the world’ manifest in the Puri Jagannath shrine. Tracing the origin of the name Puri one discovers that the word was not in use before the British conquest of Orissa in 1803 A.D. Puri simply referentially means ‘the city’ being an abbreviation of Jagannath Puri, the city of Lord Jagannath.
General Cunningham’s journals record the ancient name of the city as Charitra. In turn, if one attempts to collate information with definitive facts from the records of Hiuen Tsang the Chinese pilgrim, the city was called Che-li-ta-lo, though whether this is a specific reference to Charita or Puri is questionable. Yet by far the most interesting name for Puri is Sankha Kshetra arising from the local belief in sacred geography. The sacred kshetra or ‘dwelling’ of Lord Jagannath or Vishnu according to legend is in the shape of a conch shell or Sankha. Sankha or conch is also one of the sacred weapons or ayudhas of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is said to reside in the central area of the sacred Conch shell. Lord Vishnu takes the avatar of Lord Jagannath and resides in the part of the conch symbolic of the navel. According to the sacred geometry of the Sankha Kshetra, it is confined to places deemed sacred by temples and shrines located in and around Puri Town.
In the ancient times Puri was a hill abounding in dense forests practically secluded except for the Sabaras, a pre-Aryan and pre-Dravidian tribe who had made it their home. It is also said that ancient Puri may have been the sacred Buddhist site Dantapura or ‘town of the tooth’ where, according to legend, the Buddha’s sacred Tooth was briefly kept before or during the long journey to the seas and across to Sri Lanka. Up until the 7th and 8th century the city was a rest stop or perhaps outpost along the coastal trade route connecting India with South East Asia. Puri was later declared one of the four sacred sites or monasteries or mathas by Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the great Hindu reformer. Erudite, holy men from across the continent gathered together at the matha at Puri to debate new philosophies and the like - an ongoing tradition even today. The Rulers of the Ganga dynasty made many contributions religious, cultural and political endowing Puri’s relevance and glory as a sacred site in the 11th and 12th century. In the 12th century Anantavarman Chodaganga built the great Jagannath Temple in Puri in reverence to the great preserver Lord Vishnu. It was the Gajapati rulers who changed the town’s name to Jagannath in the 15th century. Later Kapilendra Dev, Purusottam Dev and Prataprudra Dev – great rulers of the Surya dynasty influenced the art and culture of Puri. The worship of Vishnu as Jagannath continued even during the rule of the great Islamic rulers the Mughals and the brave Maratha warrior rulers. The British invaded Puri in 1803 and consequently took over the administration of the temple. It was during the British period that the construction of modern Puri - the light house, schools and colleges, official government buildings, magnificent villas and sea front hotels – happened, unmistakably different from the ancient temple town area.
Puri Jagannath Temple
The Jagannath Temple at Puri is truly magnificent. Even before you reach Puri city, the conical spire of the temple, standing a stupendous 214 feet high, fills the sky and dwarfs the landscape. This sight is really symbolic of the identity of the city itself which is dominated by the temple’s existence.
Located 3km from Jagannath Temple at the end of the main road, this is where the main idol of the Jagannath Temple ‘goes to’ during the Yatra festival and stays for a week. The temple is named after Gundicha the queen of King Indradyumna, who is said to have built the original structure of the Jagannath temple. The inner walls especially are adorned by murals and paintings dating back to the 16th century. A beautiful Garuda idol stands at the east corner. Images of the Jagannath triad are brought by chariot in a procession here where they stay for 7 days. Devotees believe gazing at the Lord here is worthy of a thousand visits to the Jagannath temple. Sita, Lord Rama’s consort, was said to have been born here.
There are possibly a few hundred shrines and offshoot thereof, small and big, seemingly born of the main temple. Some of them are listed here
Satyabadi or Sakshigopal
20 km away from Puri, is the shrine of Lord Sakshigopal or Satyabadi,
1.5 km away, Ai Tota, situated left of the Gundicha Temple is where Chaitanya the ascetic Vaishanava monk used to stay during the Car Festivals.
3.5 km away is the banyan tree Angira Bata, surrounded by a boundary wall. It is associated with one of the great saptarishis Angira.
3 km from the Jagannath temple is a temple for the Goddess Ardhasani also referred to locally as Mausi Ma.
4.5 km away, is this small temple where eight Shiva lingas seemingly made of different colour when looked at from different angles.
3 km away, this is a bridge with eighteen arches built by Bhanu Deba of the Ganga Dynasty.
4 km away, this is an institution involved in teaching the philosophy of the great 20th century philosopher Sri Aurobindo.
5 km away, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
5 km away, this temple of goddess Batamangala is where devotees on their way to Puri pray for a safe journey.
3.5 km away, is this famous well dug by Guru Nanak.
2.5 km away, this is a temple by the sea dedicated to Hanuman, faithful devotee of Sri Rama of the great epic Ramayana.
4 km away, a philanthropic organization associated with the organization of the Car Festivals.
3 km away, an ashram associated with the sage Bhrugu (some call him Bhrigu).
Chakhi Khuntia's House
4 km away, this is the house of Chakhi Khuntia, a priest of the Jagannath temple, legendary for his brave resistance and aggression towards the British in India's First War of Independence in 1857.
2 km away, this sea shore palace said to be the house of Lord Jagannath’s consort Laxmi’s father.
Chaturdham Veda Bhawan
4.5 km away, this is a unique school – one that teaches children the sacred texts the Vedas.
3km away, established by Chodaganga Dev in the 12th century is the place where odissi dancers, singers and musicians resided.
1.5 km away, opposite the Gundicha Temple is this place dedicated to the memory of the great author Jayadeva who wrote the Gita Govindam.
3km away, this is an open air museum famous for its black stone arch and altar.
3.5 km away this monastery is dedicated to the memory of the great saint-philosopher Ramanuja.
2.5 km away a statue of Gandhi installed near the light house. The story is that the Mahatma was said to have brought with him a band of his harijan (deemed untouchables by the caste system) followers who wanted to offer prayers at the temple but the orthodox priests refused them entry and hence Gandhi refused to set foot inside the temple.
3 km away, this monastery is dedicated to Upendra Bhanja, the medieval Oriya poet.
4 km away, dwelling of sadhu Totapuri reputed to have been the guru of the great saint and nationalist Sri Ramakrishna.
2 km away is the official seashore bungalow built by the British, reserved for dignitaries visiting the Puri temple such as the President and the Prime Minister.
One of the most beautiful specimens of late nineteenth century British architecture, the Governor's House on the seashore is an official bungalow. The President and Prime Minister of the country and other dignitaries normally stay in the building during their visits to Puri.
The most spectacular of the numerous festivals occurring all year long is the Rath Yatra or the Car Carnival. It celebrates Lord Krishna’s journey from Gokul to Mathura. The festivities are grand and carried out on an expansive scale. The idols of Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balbhadra are taken out of the Jagannatha Temple in a three chariots in procession. The chariots measure over 40 feet high and 35 feet wide and have 16 wheels each. The wheels of the chariot are pulled by rope by hundreds of devotees. The idols are brought to the Gundicha Temple for a week’s visit.
Another interesting festival is the Nava Kalebara held once in 12-19 years in accordance with the lunar calendar. During this ritual, new idols are carved out of certain trees sanctified for the purpose. Te focus being the idols must change external form.
Where to Stay
Hotel Toshali Sands
Hotel Hans Coco Palms
Mayfair Beach Resort
Toshali Sands Resort
Hotel Sea Palace
Surya Beach Inn
Hotel Shree Hari